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Main Findings

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Global Context

  • Global population increased by 207% from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 7.8 billion in 2020. The share of global population accounted for by Africa increased from 9% to 17% over this period, while that of Europe fell from 22% to 10%. Asia was the most populous region with 60% of the World’s population in 2020 (see Table 1.1).
  • Global life expectancy at birth increased from 47 years in the early 1950’s to 72.3 years in 2015-2020. Africa had the lowest life expectancy in 2015-2020 at 62.7 years while North America had the highest at 79.2 years (see Table 1.3).
  • Emissions of greenhouse gases in the European Union fell by 28% from 5.7 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 1990 to 4.1 billion tonnes in 2019. Emissions in the Russian Federation fell by 33% from 3.2 billion tonnes in 1990 to 2.1 billion tonnes in 2019. Emissions in the USA were 6.6 billion tonnes in 2019, up 2% from 6.4 billion tonnes in 1990 (see Table 1.4).

Environmental Economy

  • Revenue from environment taxation in Ireland decreased by 10% from €5.0 billion in 2019 to €4.5 billion in 2020. Environment taxation accounted for 6.1% of total taxation in 2020 compared with 9.2% in 2010. Pollution and Resource taxes accounted for only 0.2% of total environment tax in 2020 (see Table 2.1).
  • Environmental subsidies in Ireland were €1.036 billion in 2019 up 90% from €544 million in 2000 (see Table 2.2).
  • In 2019, consumers of petrol paid an average effective rate of €258.6 per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted. Carbon dioxide emissions from jet kerosene were charged at €0.08 per tonne due to the tax exemption for commercial aviation (see Table 2.3).
  • Domestic material consumption (DMC) increased from 88.5 million tonnes in 1995 to 179.9 million tonnes in 2007, before falling to 88.4 million tonnes in 2011. By 2019 DMC had increased to 121.7 million tonnes (see Table 2.6).


  • Despite improvements in its emissions of PM2.5, sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides since 1990, Ireland performed poorly in terms of the reduction of emissions since the year 2000 compared with other EU Member States. In 2018 Ireland ranked 16th worst for PM2.5 relative to 2000; 11th worst for sulphur oxides; second worst for nitrogen oxides; sixth worst for ammonia; and worst for NMVOC’s.

Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

  • In 2019, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions were 59.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. This was 10.0% higher than the 1990 figure of 54.4 million tonnes (see Figure 4.1).
  • Ireland had the second highest emissions of greenhouse gases per capita in the EU in 2019 at 12.1 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, behind Luxembourg at 17.3 (see Figure 4.2).
  • Agriculture was the sector with the highest greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland at 35% of the total in 2019, followed by Transport at 20% (see Table 4.2).


  • In 2020, 89.2% of bathing water sites in Ireland were classified as being of good water quality (see Table 5.1).
  • In 2020, 33.8% of urban waste water in Ireland received secondary treatment with nutrient reduction compared with only 4.0% in 1997 (see Table 5.3)
  • The proportion of unpolluted river water in Ireland fell from an average annual 77.3% in 1987-1990 to 66.2% in 2016 -2018 (see Table 5.4).

Land Use

  • In 2020, 11.2% of Ireland’s total land area was covered by forestry. This was the third lowest proportion in the EU28 (see Figure 6.1).
  • The area of agricultural land farmed organically in Ireland increased by 292% between 1997 and 2020, when it accounted for 1.6% of total agricultural land (see Table 6.2). This was the second lowest in the EU28 in 2019 (see Figure 6.2).
  • The number of new dwelling completions in Ireland declined by 34.6% from 6,994 units in 2011 to 4,575 units in 2013. By 2020 the figure had increased to 20,535, down 2.6% on the 2019 figure of 21,075.


  • Renewable energy accounted for 36.5% of electricity generation in Ireland in 2019, close to the EU28 average of 34.2% (see Figure 7.2).
  • Renewable energy sources used in transport have grown from 0.1% of total transport energy consumption in 2006 to 8.9% in 2019. Biodiesel accounted for 90% of renewable energy sources used in transport in 2019 (see Table 7.4).


  • In 2020, 8.3 million international passengers travelled through Irish airports, down 78.2% from the 2019 figure of 37.9 million due to the effect of COVID-19 (see Table 8.3).
  • In 2020, 19.7% of all new cars licensed for the first time were Hybrid or Electric, up from 1.7% in 2015 (see Table 8.5).


  • Municipal waste generated in Ireland fell from 800 kilograms per capita in 2006 to 564 kilograms per capita in 2014 (see Table 9.1). In 2018 the figure was 600 kilograms per capita.
  • The recovery rate for packaging waste in Ireland improved from 25.3% in 2001 to 91.4% in 2015. In 2018 the recovery rate was 91.1% (see Table 9.3).


  • In 2019, Ireland had the fourth lowest proportion of total land area in the EU28 designated as terrestrial Special Protected Areas under the EU Birds Directive, and the eighth lowest proportion of total land area designated as terrestrial Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive, at 6.2% and 10.2% respectively (see Figures 10.1 and 10.2).

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